(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden said prescription drug prices in the U.S. are excessively high and that his expansive tax and spending bill would help lower costs, as he prodded the Senate to pass the legislation.
“We can agree that prescription drugs are outrageously expensive in this country,” Biden said Monday at the White House. “It doesn’t need to be that way.”
The plan, which is part of the House-passed Build Back Better Act, would follow through on Democrats’ long-standing promise to direct the federal government to negotiate Medicare drug prices and to penalize drug companies for massive price spikes.
Biden is seeking to appeal to voters who are concerned about accelerating inflation -- and driving down his approval ratings in polls -- by emphasizing how his economic plans would help average Americans.
The president described patients who had to take half their doses of medication or go without needed medications altogether because of high prices. He praised drugmakers for developing lifesaving products but said they’re gouging consumers.
“Nobody is standing up for the patients,” Biden said. “Nobody has held the manufactures accountable -- until now.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a Monday letter to Democratic senators that the bill will make its way through committees over the next two weeks and that “our goal in the Senate is to pass the legislation before Christmas and get it to the president’s desk.”
It’s not clear, though, whether that timetable is realistic. Two Democratic holdouts, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, continue to express concerns about the legislation even after months of negotiations with Biden and Democratic leaders.
Biden wasn’t as definitive as Schumer about the timing. Asked Monday if he expects the bill to be completed by Christmas, the president said he wants it done “as early as we can get it.” But, he added, “I want to get it done no matter how long it takes.”
In conversations with other senators, Manchin, of West Virginia, has expressed skepticism that it can get done this year, CNN reported last week. Manchin has said he still has a range of concerns, including that the total cost may exceed $1.75 trillion and that it may help fuel inflation.
Sinema, of Arizona, has declined to detail her sticking points. She opposed earlier versions of prescription drug pricing plan, but supports the current version, which was in the bill passed by the House.
Under the bill, the federal government would be able negotiate on the price of older drugs starting in 2025 and require drugmakers to rebate the difference in profits above the cost of inflation if they raise the price of a drug above inflation, beginning in 2023.
The package would also cap what most insured Americans pay out-of-pocket for insulin at $35 per month and limit what Medicare beneficiaries pay each year on medications to $2,000 per year. Before he spoke, Biden met with two young women with diabetes who would benefit from less expensive insulin.
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